Town Hall Meeting No. 1: zoom fatigue, COVID-19, and the spring semester

By Kirsten Williams, Staff Writer

VLS Deans McHenry and McCormack held their first (virtual) Town Hall Meeting of the 2020-2021 school year with students on Friday, Oct. 9.

“The purpose of this meeting is to check in with all of you,” said Dean McHenry. “We want to get your thoughts on how the semester is going, how you’re doing, and how [the administration] can make sure we reach out.”

Dean McCormack began the meeting by revealing some of the results of a school-wide survey that asked:“what is it you want your professors and classmates to know about how the semester is going?” About 240 students responded to the survey,sharing the various hardships VLS students are experiencing this semester.

Manager of Mental Health Services Ashley Ziai expressed her thanks to the students who participated in the survey: “thank you for those of you who responded and being so candid about your personal situations…it was overwhelming and eye-opening and I hope that each of you can take something away from this.” She encouraged all students looking for any type of support (emotional, financial, or otherwise) to reach out to her via email. Students can also reach out to Swan Support, a confidential student-led support group. Additionally, all VLS students have five free sessions per semester with professional counselors through the Clara Martin Center.

Next, Dean McHenry opened the floor to attendees who wished to share the ways they are dealing with their stress and ways that VLS can aid those efforts. The SBA Executive Board also offered their support to the student body, recognizing how trying this semester has been so far.

Several students took the opportunity to speak up. They expressed their gratitude for students and faculty, articulated their concerns about an in-person or hybrid spring semester, advocated for a return to campus, proposed alternative classroom procedures, and shared personal COVID-19 experiences.

Regarding opening the campus in the spring, Dean McCormack emphasized that one of VLS’ largest issues is a lack of space. Compliance with guidelines for higher education requires a minimum of six feet of social distancing. “We have two classrooms which normally fit 83 students,” she said. “With social distancing, they only fit 30… there’s no scenario where we’re all meeting together as a class.”

Other members of the administration on the call included: Dean Jefferson, Dean Lewis, Vice President Brook Herndon, Director of Admissions Katie Merrill, Director of Human Resources Betsy Erwin, and Vice President for Enrollment Management John Miller.

“Never hesitate to reach out,” said Dean McHenry. “I always feel like that’s the toughest hurdle for people because they feel like they shouldn’t reach out, but that’s why we’re here: you can reach out to me, to Deans McCormack and Jefferson, and members of the SBA and ask about what resources are available.”

The next Town Hall Meeting is currently scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 5:00pm. Remember, swans fly together.

  • The VLS Food Pantry → located in Oakes 012, open Monday – Friday from 9:00am to 5:00pm. All entrants must be cleared to come on campus. Please be respectful of this service and only take items that you need when you cannot afford them. Students requiring additional support are encouraged to contact Ashley Ziai.
  • Swan Support → a support group for students, faculty, and staff to come together, talk, and strengthen the sense of community at VLS. If interested, pleased reach out to Matt Brooks or Ashley Ziai.

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